The First Rule of Web 3.0: Stop Calling It That

The term Web 2.0 or 3.0 was never meant to be a version number according to Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly Media who coined the term Web 2.0.  It had more to do with the return of the internet after the dot-com bust.  However, regardless of what you call it, it does indicate a major shift in the thinking behind technology in education.  As I considered what Web 3.0 would mean for my teaching and the learning of my future students it become clear that things were very unclear in my head.  As Andrew aptly pointed out, “It’s the internet…but it’s really, really smart!”  I enjoy boiling things down to simplest terms as I’m always telling my math students, “don’t forget to simplify.”  In a 2012 article on the EDtech Website, Web 3.0 was summarized as,

“widely available videos as educational tools, the blending of the physical and digital worlds, and a web that’s capable of applying context to its processes.”

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Several key themes emerge from this article but some are not necessarily new.  The semantic web emerges as a major step forward in our interactions with computers. Conversing with computers à la StarTrek would potentially be more like a conversation with a human and, therefore, searching for information or creating content will hopefully be much more intuitive.  The second big shift will potentially occur in the implementation of wireless links between various physical objects.  Again, this is not new.  Vehicles have had computer technology for several years now and smart appliances and smart homes are more and more the norm.  So what does this mean for education?   Photo Credit

In many ways, it may be that the lines will be greatly blurred with respect to operating systems, devices and software.  At present, school divisions have to commit to single companies in many ways because there is now interactivity between systems, devices, and software.  Students bring a myriad of devices into school across the world each day.  I’ve experienced frustration with the fact that our division is largely Google based but many students use personal Apple devices for their video projects.  Uploading and sharing becomes an issue considering student privacy and we are left searching for dangles and dongles to help us show what we’ve learned on the projector.  Hopefully, in the new web, devices will be able to seamlessly interact to allow students to learn, share and grow as a community of digital citizens.

The second big piece that is already seen in education to some extent is the move to data analysis to help us determine whether learners are indeed learning.  The future classroom will have massive amounts of analytics based on the students experiences using adaptive tech.  Having a deep online profile will also be a must in the next web.  Video will also continue to be a major theme as the flipped classroom model becomes refined.  Students will also have access to personalized learning opportunities as we become more interconnected.  Teachers will hopefully be able to provide more 1-1 support to students as they navigate and plan their own learning pathways.

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Benita alludes to the fact that Web 2.0 is still in it’s infancy and I believe this is a key and crucial factor in the development of web advancements in education. Many teachers are just now coming to terms with things like project based learning, maker spaces, and inquiry based learning.  However, if we truly think about the developments that are eminent in the world of technology, I believe that teachers will have more freedom to implement strategies for the betterment of students.  I also believe we may slowly see a decrease in teacher workload as students become able to drive their learning forward on their own and learning moves beyond the physical walls of school buildings.  The fact remains that the role of teachers will be to stand firm as a “guide” for the students as they make their way down the learning pathway.  Photo Credit

Through reading Lindi’s blog, I came across the reality of teacher awareness of these web 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0 monikers and the reality of the fluidity with which technology progresses.  As seen below, many still have little idea what web 2.0 really is.  Sure, as Amy pointed out, those of us that have grown up with these technologies are comfortable giving students the chance to become creators of web content, allow them to create online connections with others around the world and allow students choice in their learning explorations.  However, I think we are being naive if we think this is the way things are done in the majority of classrooms.  I have students in my homeroom that routinely complain of taking notes every hour of science class for days on end.  Are notes inherently evil?  No, but I think as teachers we are drawn to tradition and the ways in which we were taught.  All this to say, I think we still have a long way to go with the proper adoption of Web 2.0 use in the classroom.

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kung-fuSo what does this all mean for my current practice?  I hope that as I continue to develop the use of web 2.0 tools, I will be prepared for what’s to come.  With the rate at which technology is moving, we may not be too far from something akin to the knowledge uploads seen in the Matrix.  Does this mean we as teachers should fear the future or be wary of losing our place in society?  I don’t think so.  Teachers always have been and will continue to be the professionals that drive the new generation.  However, I do believe we must take into account several factors as we seek to be reflective practitioners with respect to Edtech.   Photo Credit

  1. Stay connected and grow your PLN
  2. Let students build their roadmap of learning
  3. Move students from simple search for info to network for info (Instead of searching for ‘what people eat in China?’, try to connect with someone in China and ask them.)
  4. Don’t be afraid to try new tools and become a master of the ones that work well for you.

The future is a place that will look very different for us and for our students.  Let’s be sure that we are giving students tools for success, not simply tech tools for the sake of tech.

“It’s kind of a red herring to introduce this idea that it’s Web 3.0 or some new version of the web that’s driving this innovation,” says O’Reilly Media’s Tim O’Reilly. “I would say it’s more that the web, having disrupted media, is now looking for new targets of disruption and settled on education, which hasn’t had a great deal of disruption of innovation in a long time.”

As I continue to struggle to get my head around this, I would like to pose these questions: Other than access and data management issues, what limiting factors is Web 3.0 facing in regards to education?  Does education need a major disruption?  What’s our role in an educational disruption with regard to Edtech? Let me know in the comments section below.  

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Edtech: Making Learning Easier

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What does Educational Technology actually mean?  A clearcut definition is illusive in many ways because, from a historical perspective, technological tools used to aid or enhance learning can be traced back to the first petroglyphs and the invention of papyrus.  In addition to trying to decide what constitutes an edtech tool, there is the question of theory and practice.  As I was reflecting this week on my experiences with edtech, I had to keep reminding myself that I entered the world of edtech fairly late in comparison with the rest of the western world.  I grew up in Mali, West Afica and understandably, every innovation that emerged in North America or Europe took a bit longer to reach us in the developing world.  Due to poor infrastructure, things like internet connectivity, and email were late to arrive at our house.  When we would travel back to Canada, it often was a big adjustment as we had to catch up on 6 months to a year of technological innovations that had not yet appeared on the shores of Africa.  Therefore, I’ve always looked at edtech through an access lens which tends to give me slightly different take at times.

Educational technology is defined by the Association for Educational Communications and Technology as “the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using, and managing appropriate technological processes and resources.”  This seems like a decent start for a definition and it certainly brings up some interesting questions.  For example, it can be rather difficult to define what is ethical in a digital world that is very fluid and constantly changing.  In other words, ethical practice can be interpreted differently by teachers taking into account the variance in their teaching circumstances.  For example, some teachers would say that using social media in the classroom is a dangerous exercise in regards to student privacy issues.  Others would argue that social media can be a very valuable tool in engaging students and promoting deeper level thinking and analytics as seen in the example here.

The second part of the definition states that we “create, use, and manage appropriate  technological processes and resources.”  It is again somewhat difficult to put into words what is an “appropriate” process or resource is exactly.  I would say that there must be a student centred approach to any discussion on the use of edtech tools, processes, or theory development.  This is why I love the teaching profession.  The ability to exercise professional judgment in most cases means that educational technology processes and resources will and must be chosen according to the needs of the students.  This is where, in recent years, I have seen some troubling trends in the edtech startup market.  As more and more companies try to make a name for themselves in the edtech space, we as educators need to be a) making our voices heard in voicing the real needs for students when it comes to edtech, and b) making sure that any technology (from books or pencils to smart boards and ipads) used in the classroom is used for the purpose of enhancing learning for students.  If edtech tools and/or processes can not prove to enhance student learning, they are not worth using.  As seen in the recent case of ipads preloaded with a digital Pearson curriculum being rolled out in Los Angeles, being caught up in the edtech frenzy is a dangerous lesson in forgetting to put student needs first.

On the other hand, many of the tools used in classrooms over the years were both heralded and scoffed at in their time.  When the printing press was invented, it was a great achievement for all learners but it had it’s naysayers.  When television and radio began being used in schools, people thought we wouldn’t be able to keep kids away.  More recently, educators have voiced concerns about students losing the ability to write and use language properly due to the constant use of texting.  Educational technology has existed in one form or another for centuries.  It encompasses many different facets, questions and nuances.  As Greg Toppo states in this TedTalk, we need to ask ourselves, “what kind of place should school be and what should students do there?”  We need to wonder about the intended uses of the tools or processes we’re using in the classroom. We need to evaluate and re-evaluate our practice to ensure that the technology we use is helping to make learning easier for kids.  Ultimately, that is what I believe edtech is.  From  a pencil to a textbook to an iphone to Pearson’s Gradebook, these tools and processes are incorporated into classrooms for the purpose of enhancing learning or making learning easier!  I believe that a simple and overarching definition like this allows for a myriad of historical and groundbreaking technological tools and processes paired with theory and practice.  As long as we are keeping students at the centre of our practice, anything that makes learning easier could be considered edtech.  What are are your thoughts on edtech?  Is this definition too simplistic?  Let me know your thoughts.   

 

No Fair: Does Technology Support Equity?

Technology is the promise of the future.  It is touted as the great equalizer.  The tools that will bring education to the underprivileged, those with disabilities and those on the margins of society.  It has the promise of breaking down barriers, of helping us all communicate better and of bringing equity to the world.  But, is technology living up to these promises?  What is the evidence that we have indeed begun bridging the digital divide?  In a recent Financial Post Study, evidence suggests that even in a developed country like Canada, disparity with regard to access and internet fluency not only still exist but are being exacerbated.  As is noted in the study, age and income both play significant roles in who accesses technology and also how it is used.

“People with some post-secondary education (and who were no longer students) had Internet-use rates nearly 10 per cent higher than people with just a high school diploma, and nearly 50 per cent higher than those without a diploma.” -Financial Post

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The question has to be asked, can technology really bridge gaps such as income disparity?  After-all, at the end of the day the technology has the potential to allow access to a myriad of learning opportunities.  People have access to apps like duolingo, coursera, MOOCs, online information hubs, and translations tools.  The problem is not necessarily the programs and software but the access to internet service and hardware.  How can these services be considered equitable learning opportunities if students do not all have access to the technology?  In addition, it has become clear that technology, even when applied across a range of different socio-economic classrooms, does not benefit all students in the same way.  Harvard Education has undertaken a study outlined in the video below that indicates that the use of a platform such as wiki as an example, is disproportionately benefiting those students who come from higher income brackets and have higher socio-economic status.

So what is the solution?  Clearly the teachers and innovators need to have a strong social justice focus as we engage in these questions.  As mentioned in the video, tools that are specifically designed and targeted at low income and marginalized youth can have a greater impact than simply applying the same broad technology strokes to the entire class and expect the technology to magically transform our students.  Technology in education is an amazing gift and I use it every day and am so thankful for it, however, it can not take the place of personalized learning.  Due to issues of access and socio-economic status, we are still not able to offer the same advantages to these students as the privileged already receive.

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Growing up in Africa meant I was able to experience a different world of education than what we are accustomed to here in Canada.  My friends went to school in which they had 1 pencil for every 10 students.  This meant that as the students sat in rows on the dirt floor, the first person in the line would copy down the notes, pass the pencil on to the next person and so on and so forth.  Is it equitable that these students do not have the opportunity to experience technology in their education?  Maybe not, but it may not be that far off.  Programs like Youth Learning, and the Text to Change project are being implemented in third world countries in order to engage youth in technology and give them a voice in a digital world in which they were not citizens.

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“Technology has the potential to be a huge force for good but it is not a silver bullet, a fix-all solution to how to fix the education and employment problems for young people in developing countries,” says Kenny. “Yet one thing is clear – it will undoubtedly play an increasingly important part of millions of young people’s lives across the world.”-Charles Kenny

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Technology has tremendous potential to affect positive change in the lives of millions of people who are not currently a part of the world you live in right now.  The ease with which we can access and share information across the world in this day and age is unprecedented.  In our own schools here in Saskatchewan, tech tools are allowing creativity to flourish in those that would not otherwise have an outlet.  They are giving hope to those can can’t access traditional learning environments, they are giving a voice to the voiceless.  But the work is not done.  As you are reading this, just remember that there are millions of others around the world right now, and probably in your city or town, who have no way to read this blog.  As educators, let us not be caught in the techno-colonial trap of presuming that as we bring technology to the poor and downtrodden of society, we will be the saviours once again.  Equity must mean more than simply providing the same tools to all.  Personalized learning is the key to success.  We must ask ourselves, what are the individual needs of this student, of this class, of this community?  For many students throughout the world, physiological needs will supersede a simple piece of technology.

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Then again for others…

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Internet Equality: Bridging the Digital Divide

If you’re old enough to remember a time before the internet, you’ve seen the world change a lot in the past 20 years.  People can access all types of information, take classes online, and even make a living online in a variety of ways.  Students can work collaboratively online while teachers can monitor their learning using a variety of tools.  As I’ve reflected this past week on the rights and privileges that accompany access to technology and the internet, I’ve been struck by several things.  It seems as though access to technology becomes yet another instance in which the less fortunate and those on the margins are further disadvantaged.  I have stated before that teaching in a community school has opened my eyes to the needs that exist right here in our own city.  Trying to help students learn becomes exceedingly difficult when they are experiencing deficits in lower levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy.  Add to these the lack of access to the technological advantages of some other schools in the city and it is clear to see that some students in Regina will simply have greater chances of success than others.

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This argument can be extended to the rest of the world as we see the same types of issues on the macro level.  For example, internet users per 100 people in the developing world are between 90-99%.  This includes countries in Europe, North America, and Australia.  While countries in the developing world are at 9-20%.  It shouldn’t surprise us that the countries with the highest access rates are also the countries with the highest quality of life and lowest unemployment rates.  I do not mean to draw unnecessary correlations between internet access and quality of life but it is yet another factor to add to the already long list of disadvantages for people living in these countries.  Facebook has recently become a major player in the push to increase access to the internet for those in the Third World.  However, the question that is always asked of large companies seemingly interested in philanthropy is “what’s in it for you?”  Big companies clearly see that in these undeveloped parts of the world, the potential for profit is huge. In this case it is much like the Europeans that first landed on the shores of Africa and South America.  Just as the colonizers saw opportunity for exploitation in these “new” lands, big internet players see enormous potential if they can corral potential future users of their product or service.

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This is why it is crucial that the internet remain an open and free environment that is not predicated on who pays more or has more political connections.  The internet was supposed to be the great equalizer.  It was supposed to help everyone have an equal opportunity to access information, make connections, and have a voice.  Individuals and companies alike should have the right to access information and services at comparable speeds to anyone else.  However, if big companies have monopolies in certain areas of the world, they will be the ones deciding who has access to what, for how long and at what speed.  For everyone to have an equal chance at internet access and usage, internet access equality must be in place to allow individuals to access information and promote services regardless of their socio-economic status.  Why is this important?  Well, for one thing although it is clear that socio-economic status is a huge factor in the future prospects for students, the current popularity of open education means that opportunities are available but inaccessible to those without information technologies.

As Aleph Molinari discusses in the video found above, the internet is “a basic social necessity of the 21st century and therefore it should be considered a right not a privilege.” With 5 billion people in the world who are digitally excluded, what will be the state of the digital revolution we are experiencing in North America and Europe if only 30% of the world’s population are included.  In essence this indicates that 70% of the world’s ideas, insights and innovations are completely untaped.  In Molinari’s model, RIA, community centres with computers and internet access are provided to communities in need of these services.  The centres are also equipped with educational software to enable both youth, seniors and everyone in between to have access to what they need to improve their lives.  They are also built with sustainability in mind.  Users are given opportunities to learn how to use computers and build connections and networks while learning to also become digital citizens.  This is one model but there are many others.

With the influx of new immigrants and refugees to Canada and other developed nations, we need to be providing training and opportunities to people who can lend their voice to digital conversations around war, reconciliation, peacekeeping, citizenship, immigration, politics, etc.  They also need to be able to access and navigate the myriad of forms, databases and information hubs necessary for survival in Canadian society.  For anyone who has ever tried to navigate the CRA or Government of Canada websites to retrieve a form or file a claim, I think you understand what I mean.  Now imagine that you don’t speak English or French, you’ve never used a computer before and you’re trying to register your baby for a SIN number.  It’s not just newcomers to Canada that are faced with this issue.  First Nations reserves across the country are also faced with this reality.  Low income urban neighbourhoods are another example of citizens with little to no access to technology or the internet.

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So, what’s the answer?  What is the role of educators and indeed all digital citizens in building a bridge across the digital divide? There are a number of positive options you can be involved in.  Volunteer at a local library to teach newcomers to use computers. Make an online connection with someone in a developing country to help them practice their English.  Donate to an organization that supplies computers or digital centres to underprivileged communities.  Raise money through fundraising with your students to provide technology for underprivileged communities.  Above all, remember that because you are already a part of the digital world, it is incumbent upon you to fight for the inclusion of those whose voices are not heard.  Do you agree that internet access is a right for all people? If so, let’s fight for it and fight to protect it.